Finding My Death Carrots
In college I shared in a class discussion that when I fly in airplanes I think about death. Rather than feeling morbid, I shared that flights feel like an important opportunity to check in with my life. Who do I need to talk to? Who I have I forgotten to talk to? How do I feel about how things are going for me right now?
While this thought experiment is initiated from fear – of flying = death – it leads to a moment that deepens my relationship with myself and loved ones. In this way the contemplation transforms from a fear, a thing to be avoided, into a carrot — a positive enticement. Although most airplanes no longer offer food service, my airplanes always serve me up some yummy death carrots. Har har.
As a parent of young kids I’m flying less – because it’s too damn hard, expensive, and is killing the planet – but I still think about fear and mortality. For many of us, becoming a parent is a catalyst for a deep reckoning with our mortality. We ask ourselves the big questions:
Who do I want to love even more? What might I regret, right now, if I were on my death bed?
Like flying and becoming a parent, improv provides a space to acknowledge and address the BIG LIFE questions – often, but not always, lightly and playfully. Because anything goes, we definitely go there.
A normal night of improv includes death, birth, defecation and murder.
Facing and playing around with my darkness and fears helps me define the light and joy. For example, I just returned from a performance at an American Heart Association conference, where with the cast of The Theater of Public Policy I got to perform improv scenes about performing CPR and cardiovascular disease mortality rates in women. I swear, the audience laughed! And, we learned. We walked away having contemplated death in real ways while also exploring the confusion, sadness and tragedies through stress-release laughter. I believe our improv offered a death carrot, a positive enticement to process and work through this big, hard topic.
Improv is a contemplative practice.
In Improv we get to address REAL content but also get to practice real-time life skills. Improv offers a way to be fully present. When improvising I must move on, not obsess about the 'bad' or 'wrong' of 'unfunny' thing I said. I can't plan too far ahead or dwell in the past. I must do the next thing. I must listen. I must agree and accept what is happening. I must show up for the person I’m with. I must be brave. What a gift! When I’m able to be vulnerable in all - or even just some - of these ways, I find new ways to embrace the darkness.